To borrow some Grand National parlance, Sligo and Thomond are neck-and-neck entering the final furlong of the Division 2C title race. So it is very much winner-takes-all when the sides clash in Strandhill this afternoon, while Tullamore are hoping to escape the dreaded relegation play-off spot with some final day heroics.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 2C: Saturday, April 14
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
Ulster Bank League Results Service: Send UBL to 51444. To unsubscribe send the word STOP to 0876445950. Search #UBL on Twitter for club updates.
Bective Rangers (10th) v Malahide (3rd), Energia Park, Donnybrook
Division 2C survival proved beyond Bective Rangers, the proud Donnybrook club’s demotion confirmed by a 19-6 defeat away to Bruff. It will be a sad farewell for club stalwart Fergal Campion, who is stepping down as head coach and likely to feature off the bench today before he hangs up his boots. Dave Plummer will have the coaching reins next season.
Malahide were undone by Sligo’s stronger finish last Saturday, losing their grip on a 27-17 lead and missing a late penalty in a gut-wrenching 34-32 reversal. You would have to back them to get back to winning ways here and build some momentum heading into the play-offs. The experience of ex-pros Mike Ross and Danie Poolman could prove crucial in their push for promotion.
Malahide’s Division 2C journey began all the way back on a mid-September night when Bective visited Estuary Road. Rick Evans’ men ran in seven tries in a thumping 55-7 bonus point triumph, with wingers Marcus McAllister, Daragh Sweeney and Gary Robb all prominent in the try-scoring stakes.
Omagh (4th) v Bruff (8th), Thomas Mellon Playing Fields
It says a lot about the ambitions of high-ranking junior clubs that both Omagh and Malahide, who came up via the Round Robin qualifiers last season, are both currently challenging for immediate promotion from the league’s bottom tier. The Accies can qualify for the play-offs by completing a season’s double over Bruff, whom they edged out 14-13 in September’s opening round.
Bruff took in Christmas in fourth place but their form has been frustratingly patchy since then, with only two victories in the last seven rounds. They now lie eighth overall and need to pick up at least two points in Co. Tyrone in order to hold second-from-bottom Tullamore at bay. Neither will want to have to negotiate a relegation play-off.
Omagh boss Phil Marshall said: “Best case scenario now is we finish second, third or fourth, but the worst is unfortunately fifth. Win and we’re in the play-offs regardless. We have to get the mentality right because if we win our next three games we’re promoted, but that starts (today) against a Bruff team who are fighting for their lives. Regardless of how it all pans out, the boys have got massive experience from this season.”
Seapoint (7th) v Midleton (5th), Kilbogget Park
Paul Kelly, the ageless, versatile prop who has been playing Ulster Bank League rugby since 1991, returns to Seapoint’s starting front row for this final round meeting with fifth-placed Midleton. Eric Miller’s other personnel changes include Declan Byrne’s selection at full-back as ‘Point look to finish their campaign in winning fashion.
Seapoint’s 11-6 success away to Bangor moved them five points clear of second-from-bottom Tullamore, and they also have a much healthier scoring difference than Bruff and Tullamore below them. Indeed, the south Dubliners could finish as high as fifth if results go their way today, but Midleton will have plenty to say about that.
The east Cork outfit are still in the running for a promotion play-off spot. They will be keeping a close eye on updates from Omagh v Bruff as they could slot into the top four, needing at least four points from their trip to Killiney to stand a chance of doing so. Midleton will be quietly confident of getting a result, having won their last three fixtures and scoring 88 points in the process. 48 of those were supplied by trusty out-half Stuart Lee, including two tries.
Sligo (1st) v Thomond (2nd), Hamilton Park
Mike Wells’ late match-winning drop goal against Malahide last week will be talked about for a long time if Sligo are crowned champions at home this afternoon. In a game that was moved to Belvedere College’s all-weather pitch, the Connacht side scored five tries and triumphed 34-32 thanks to winger Wells’ all-important kick.
Second-placed Thomond are level on 51 points with table-topping Sligo and know exactly what they have to do to upset the party for the hosts. Although their away form has not been great, the Soda Cakes did win at Tullamore, Bruff, Midleton and Omagh earlier in the campaign. They also have a canny knack of winning very tight games, including three of their last four outings.
Sligo head coach Ross Mannion said: “We were over the moon with the win against Malahide. It’s in our own hands now. Thomond are a good team, they’ll work hard and fight for everything. We’ll have to bring our ‘A’ game, both mentally and physically. This is a final now and we have to back up everything that the players have put into it over the last three years (that I’ve been here).”
Tullamore (9th) v Bangor (6th), Spollanstown
You cannot fault Tullamore’s efforts in trying to pull clear of relegation trouble in recent weeks. They have posted wins over Bruff and Malahide and picked up losing bonus points against Omagh and Thomond, two of the promotion-chasing sides. Yet, they still have four points to make up on Bruff and if results don’t go their way today, they will have a relegation play-off to negotiate.
A poor run of results has knocked Bangor out of contention for the promotion play-offs, last week’s 11-6 reversal at home to Seapoint was their third defeat on the trot. The Jason Morgan-coached Seasiders struggled noticeably to put chances away in those games, averaging just eight points.
John Burns’ Tulliers will likely need a bonus point to stand any chance of ousting Bruff from eighth position. Although they lost a tight game to Thomond last Saturday, they can draw confidence from their showings against Bruff and Malahide last month when they racked up 35 and 29 points respectively.